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Category: Player Interviews

Ron Artest's decision to raffle off his championship ring should be lauded

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Countless people have approached Ron Artest and asked a variation of this question: Why are you going to raffle off your championship ring?

They already know this answer: Artest will begin a raffle Oct. 27, when fans can purchase a minimum of five raffle tickets for $2 each through Artest's website. Those proceeds will benefit Xcel University, a charity Artest supports, with funds directed toward two as-yet-determined mental-health causes. And a lucky fan on Christmas will then keep Artest's 2010 championship ring, which has been custom-made for size 11 instead of his own size 14, so it would be easier for the average fan to fit the ring on his or her finger.

But many of the public still ask. They want to understand why Artest would give away a prized possession he's finally earned after a adversarial 11-year career. They want to know why the Lakers' ring ceremony before the season opener Tuesday night at Staples Center would mark the only time he'd wear it. And they want to see if there's any alternative he's willing to accept, so he doesn't regret giving away his ring while also raising funds for mental-health charities.

Artest acknowledged his wife is among those concerned, so he plans to make a duplicate ring for her. He's shared that plenty of fans, in person and on Twitter, have asked him to reconsider even though it gives them the chance to own a piece of Lakers' hardware themselves. The Lakers, meanwhile, have publicly and affectionately shared their support for Artest's decision to give away the ring on Christmas, even though that's not what they plan to do with their own rings. And the media for the last two weeks, including myself, have clamored to hear about this giveaway, while openly questioning whether he's really thought this thing through.

"We did what we had to do last year to win a championship, and it presents all these opportunities and these ideas," Artest said. "For it to go toward mental-health awareness, I'm pretty happy about that. That's already in motion."

But why, Ron? Why give away something you've wanted for so long? I wondered, at first, if it was the initial public attention he craved. And if there would be future regrets about losing a symbol of a high point of his career and how sad that would be.

Yet, after listening to Artest talk about this during interviews over the last two weeks, I'm convinced he's made the right decision. If it were me, I couldn't give away something so meaningful. But Artest should be lauded for his generosity and because he's doing this for the right reasons.

As the NBA gears up for a potential lockout next season, Artest shows he's thinking beyond wealth and material goods. The general public and the media may have become numb to the narcissism that permeates our sports culture, but Artest's gesture trumps self-interest. As other athletes try to reshape a battered image by winning, hiring a new publicist or just plain stonewalling the media and fans, Artest takes a real step toward altering an earlier toxic persona -- notably his involvment in Malice at the Palace, the 2004 Pacers-Pistons brawl.

"You look at the impact I made already with the whole cause, I think you'd do the same thing," Artest said. "I didn't think it was going to be like that. I didn't plan on it being such a major response. I had no idea. But even had I known that, I would still do it and give other things away. It was for short-term impact that hopefully will lead to long-term impact. Now it's getting out of control, but in a good way."

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Ron Artest has kept a consistent shooting stroke during the preseason

54399176Numerous hand gestures to Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff helped direct them to the right places within the triangle offense.

But this guidance during the Lakers' 82-74 preseason loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz didn't come from Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or even Steve Blake. No, the teaching instead came from Ron Artest, an unlikely source considering his well-documented struggles last season with understanding the triangle.

This doesn't suggest Artest is ready to join Jackson as an assistant and teach the system. But it does reflect how Artest has made more of a difference offensively this preseason. Artest has shot 47.2% overall and is the top three-point shooter among the team's regulars with a 42.1% clip, far surpassing his 34.4% career mark from beyond the arc. Of course, preseason statistics mean very little, but signs suggest Artest is in for much more productive offensive performances this season, thanks to his improved movement the offense, a better shooting stroke and increased confidence.

"I just think the rhythm of his game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, giving  a reason for Artest's effective shooting. He then couldn't help but take a dig at Artest's foot apparel: "And the cement shoes he's not wearing."

Just don't tell Artest any of these theories, because he won't subscribe to them.

"I don't really worry about the offense," Artest said after a recent practice. "I just worry about the defense, the effort, that's the main thing. Everyone else [worries] if I score, and that's cool. I work on my game, but I'm more worried about the effort, the defense and if we're playing the triangle the right way."

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Lakers guard Shannon Brown determined to find an opportunity

53291378The Lakers were running the fast break Sunday against the Utah Jazz, and it appeared two scenarios could play out. Shannon Brown could cap the play with another highlight-reel dunk. Or it could end with an ill-advised shot, poor pass or costly turnover. But neither happened.

Brown pulled up on the right block, looked for Lamar Odom in the near corner and found no defender on him. Instead of forcing a pass to Odom or driving through a lane of traffic, Brown took advantage of the open space, settled for a jumper on the right block, and the ball crisply went into the hoop.

After Monday's practice, Brown was recounting that play in the Lakers' 99-94 preseason loss Sunday to the Jazz. He said it's possible, given the same situation, he would have made the same decisions last season. But plays like this one have been happening more often this preseason for Brown.

Four Lakers have averaged double figures this preseason. Since Lamar Odom has assumed a starter's role while Andrew Bynum rehabilitates from a surgically repaired right knee, Brown's 10.8-points-per-game average on 46.5% shooting in 22.4 minutes mark the highest output from a reserve.

Brown has shown promise this preseason in overcoming inconsistent shooting, handling and defense, but how much will that matter when Oct. 26 rolls around and the Lakers host Houston in their season opener?

"I don't see any bench player besides Lamar playing more than 20 minutes per game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's too hard to take those kind of minutes from the starters."

Jackson later backtracked and said it was conceivable Lakers backup guard Steve Blake would surpass 20 minutes in light of Jackson's plan to hold starting guard Derek Fisher to under 30 minutes per game, Blake's passing skills as a point guard and his already strong grasp of the triangle offense. Still, Jackson's message looks pretty clear. Yet, Brown appears genuinely upbeat about the 2010-11 season, and it's not just because he and R&B singer Monica recently got engaged. ("I'm happy," he said. "She's a great girl. Everything is great.")

That's because he has a pragmatic view on how to mark his niche.  "Just take advantage of any opportunity I'm given," said Brown, who signed a two-year, $4.6-million deal after averaging last season a career-high 8.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game and earning a trip to the NBA All-Star dunk contest. "Just go out there and work hard and continue to get better every day. That's about it. There really isn't any much more to it."

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Kobe Bryant's increased mobility a good sign in Lakers' 99-94 preseason loss to Utah Jazz

The Lakers almost came within striking distance in unseating the Utah Jazz in an exhibition game Sunday night at Staples Center, and the 15,690 spectators wanted Kobe Bryant to reenter the game so he could provide the typical theatrics.

The crowd didn't care that the result of the Staples Center Shootout meant very little, with it being a preseason game. The crowd didn't care that Bryant has spent the first five exhibition games mostly interested in how much strength he can build in his surgically repaired right knee than improving his shooting percentage, let alone winning a game. And the crowd also didn't care that Bryant sat on the Lakers' bench with ice on his knees with 3:27 remaining in the contest.

They wanted to see the Black Mamba put on a show after an electrifying third-quarter performance. Instead, the Lakers lost, 99-94, Sunday to the Utah Jazz, another preseason game that's brought more significance to Bryant's rehabilitation process than any results.

"I'm surprised they chanted," Bryant said after scoring 19 points on seven-of 12-shooting. "Come on it's the preseason. They'd much rather see me in June, but I still appreciate it."

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5 things to take away from Lakers' 102-95 victory over Denver Nuggets

568418641. Kobe Bryant looks a lot better: It's not just because Bryant's shooting clip against Denver was much better. In 24 minutes, he scored 18 points on five-of-13 shooting (38%) and went eight of 11 from the free-throw line after going four of 28 (14.3%) in the first three exhibition games. Jackson and Bryant never used Bryant's shooting mark as a barometer of progress as he rehabbed from a surgically repaired right knee. What mattered was how fluid and active he looked in the game and eventually getting to that point where he had more lift on his shot. Bryant made a huge step forward in that department against Denver, appearing more  aggressive and mobile than he had since training camp started.

"I feel silly talking about shooting percentages in a damn preseason game," said Bryant, who wore a padded sleeve on his right knee after not wearing one Wednesday against the Kings. "I felt a lot better. I haven't played since Game 7" of the 2010 NBA Finals.

After hitting his first shot of the night on a fade-away jumper to give the Lakers an 11-7 lead with 7:03 left in the first quarter, Bryant several times looked comfortable enough to play aggressively. He'd said he wanted strength and to get his game legs, and that appeared to be happening. After Lakers guard Derek Fisher missed a three-pointer, Lakers forward Matt Barnes tipped the ball out to Bryant up top. He then drove the lane, performed an up-and-under and was fouled by Denver point guard Chauncey Billups, a three-point sequence that gave the Lakers a 14-11 lead with 6:14 remaining in the first quarter.

In other sequences, Bryant saved the ball from going out of bounds, threw a cross-court pass to Lamar Odom and directed a screen-and-roll with Pau Gasol in which he spun through two defenders. He missed the layup on the latter play, but that didn't matter. The Black Mamba, who also had eight rebounds and five assists, just looked better.

"It was just a matter of time and a chance to get stronger and get a rhythm," Jackson said of Bryant, whom he plans to play from 20 to 22 minutes Sunday at Staples Center against the Jazz. But the coach didn't have any definite plans for Bryant's minutes after that. "It was a very slow game with an awful lot of free throws when he was out there on the floor. So there wasn't a lot of continuous running or pounding."

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Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Ron Artest, Devin Ebanks, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol discuss 102-95 pre-season victory over Denver Nuggets

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson

Lakers forward Ron Artest

Lakers forward Devin Ebanks

Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Devin Ebanks is feisty, and the Lakers like it

In an ordinary practice, Lakers forward Devin Ebanks showcased an extraordinary effort. He tenaciously guarded Steve Blake at one point and tried to strip the ball away. As soon as he saw the loose ball, both Ebanks and Blake dove for it. Ebanks came out on top.

That play epitomizes the grit and determination Ebanks has showcased with the Lakers thus far in training camp. Kobe Bryant has praised Ebanks' work ethic, Ron Artest says, "He has some feistiness in him and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed satisfaction with Ebanks' intensity.

"Devin's reacting really well defensively, " Jackson said. "Offensively, it's still a little bit of a mystery to him. But he's got the ability to find open spots and take shots and get down the court and be real active in our offense."

Ebanks' stat line in the Lakers' first two preseason games shows a modest contribution: 4 1/2 points per game on a three-of-seven clip in 8 1/2 minutes per contest. His understanding of the triangle and his shooting stroke need work, but his defensive tenacity fits in well with the physical intensity Bryant, Artest and Matt Barnes bring to the floor. It's hard to gauge how this all will translate into the regular season, considering the Lakers' loaded front court and Ebanks' inexperience. But one thing's for certain: The Lakers have a prospect who will quickly improve thanks to a positive and relentless attitude.

"Given the time I've been able to play, I think I gave good minutes, and I keep working out," Ebanks said. "In practice, I'm playing hard and playing defense. Things will work out."

Ebanks' determined attitude roots back to his childhood in Queens. The native New Yorker says the environment was rough, but it taught him he could "handle any type of adversity." That same determination enabled him to average 8.1 rebounds per game and excel in Bob Huggins' 3-1-1 defense at West Virginia and proved instrumental, last season, in the Mountaineers' first Final Four run since 1959. And his work ethic has made Artest and Lamar Odom, both also from Queens, proud that Ebanks has represented their home area well.

"I never really got to see him play, but wow I didn't know we had that talent right back at home," said Artest. "He's doing great."

Though Ebanks' determination is apparent, he also has a quiet, unassuming personality (at least outside of Twitter), which bodes well for a rookie trying to fit in with a veteran-laden team. He handles the frequent Trevor Ariza comparisons with grace -- the team's reminders, the media's questions, even when a Best Buy employee asked him if he was the former Lakers forward when he recently bought a TV.

It's a transition period for Ebanks, one in which he should flourish quickly. He's already shown signs of offensive development, averaging 15 points on 42.5% shooting from the field and 45.5% from three-point range in the first five summer league games. He continues working with shooting coach Chuck Person on his footwork and outside shooting. And he makes sure, like in last week's practice, to look for ways to show his hustle and grit. It's been a proven formula he hopes works again.

"I keep working on my all-around game," Ebanks said. "Things will work out.

-- Mark Medina

twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Lakers have mixed assessment of European trip

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The NBA had hoped the Lakers' trip to Europe would help showcase the league's best talent before an international audience. Instead, fans from London and Barcelona saw the defending champs lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves and FC Barcelona.

This trip included plenty of sightseeing for the Lakers -- but also 11-hour flights, a travel alert in London because of perceived terrorist threats and multiple NBA Cares events.

The Lakers' visit to Spain marked a homecoming of sorts for forward Pau Gasol, a Barcelona native who, with all the activity, seemed to feel more drained than inspired.

"It was more or less what I expected," said Gasol, who visited with family and friends and had, as well, numerous publicity and media obligations. "That's why it was filled with mixed feelings."

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson already had called training camp a "bust" because the European trip would interfere with the process of implementing team concepts and solidifying team chemistry. Gasol had predicted earlier he'd feel stretched thin with all the responsibilities surrounding returning to his native country. And the entire team found out how much energy it required to help promote the NBA.

"This is entirely different," Jackson said in comparing other preseasons with this one. "But it's OK. It is what it is. We got this out of the way, and now we can focus on our business."  

The first order of business? Jackson ran a three-hour practice that all attended, with the exceptions of  Kobe Bryant (right knee), Andrew Bynum (right knee) and Luke Walton (right hamstring). The team has an off-day Sunday, "surprisingly" as Gasol put it, and then practice Monday and Tuesday before the exhibition game Wednesday in Las Vegas against Sacramento. That's followed by home games at Staples Center against Denver on Saturday and an undetermined opponent on Sunday, a matchup with Utah on Oct. 19 at the Honda Center in Anaheim and a pair of exhibition games against Golden State Oct. 21 and Oct 22 in San Diego and Ontario, respectively. 

The Lakers hope that a schedule void of promotional appearances and heavy travel will begin to make up for the lost time overseas.

"It's been a demanding trip, exhausting a little bit," Gasol said. "We didn't have a lot of time to make improvements as far as our preparation. Now we're looking forward to get to work here and settle down and be able to get in a normal rhythm."

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Tweetable nuggets from Lakers' practice on Saturday

--After an eight-day European trip that featured little practice time and an 0-2 preseason start, the Lakers had a three-hour practice Saturday. "We haven't played well," Coach Phil Jackson said of the team's training camp. "That's to be expected. We're out of focus a little bit and we didn't have a lot of practice time in Europe so we'll get that together."

--Jackson said three players missed practice Saturday: Andrew Bynum (recovering from surgically repaired right knee), Kobe Bryant (recovering from surgically repaired right knee) and Luke Walton (strained right hamstring). Jackson said he expects Walton to be out for another week. "He's coming along OK," Jackson said.

--Jackson said Saturday's practice primarily centered on "getting our feet on the ground" and defensive drills.

--Jackson is far from pleased with how Bryant looks, particularly after he played 25 minutes Thursday against FC Barcelona. He has made only two of 19 field-goal attempts in two preseason games. "I didn't like the way he looked on the floor, personally," Jackson said. "He wanted to be competitive and try to keep the game competitive, but he's entirely not ready yet to play. Yet he went out and gave an effort, which was nice. But I'm going to have to talk to him about some of the progresses as we go through this training camp." Jackson also said Bryant lacks strength and power in his right leg.

--Lakers forward Ron Artest said he weighs about 250 pounds right now and wants to weigh 245 by the postseason. He was listed on the roster this season at 260 pounds. "I really worked hard this summer to get rid of the weight," Artest said, adding that his off-season regimen included extra running and abstaining from alcohol since late July.

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Criticism regarding Andrew Bynum's surgery is understandable, but misguided

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Lakers center Andrew Bynum stood near center court Saturday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo bearing a smile on his face. Surely, he knew the firing squad (the press) aimed, ready to barrage him with a litany of questions: his timetable after having offseason surgery on his right knee, why he didn't have an operation earlier and whether this serves as the latest chapter of "Andrew Bynum -- Many Injuries and Failed Recoveries."

Yet, he appeared as content as most players are during the first day of training camp, except he's entering the 2010-11 season with serious setbacks. Bynum shared in a matter-of-fact tone he's not expecting to play in a game until the end of November (missing eight pre-season games and as many as 18 regular-season contests). He reported that doctors told him he needed an additional four  weeks of rest before practicing. And he held zero regrets about how he handled his offseason surgery.

"Obviously, [people] want a player that they care about to be out there on the court come the start of the season," Bynum said. "I hear it, but at the same time, I had to do what's good for me and had to be ready as far as the surgery goes."

Bynum's level of thinking has created quite a reaction among writers and fans, who argue this serves as the latest example of Bynum's entitled attitude. He had surgery after attending the World Cup and Europe. He enters the 2010-11 season with yet another rehab process. And the situation doesn't exactly set the right tone for a team trying to three-peat.

The points those people have made have some validity, but they're misguided for several reasons I outline below. Bynum shouldn't be blamed for what amounts to a collective miscalculation among himself, the Lakers and the doctors for an event that's simply circumstantial.

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